Monday, July 21

Update on Negotiating High Medical Bills

During our Las Vegas vacation I had a health scare when I swallowed a piece of meat down the wrong tube.  In trying to cough it up I got bronchitis, but before that diagnosis I was concerned I was choking.  The urgent care doctor refused to do anything (after charging me $100 to refer me to the Spring Valley Hospital  ER!) because he was concerned about the severity of my symptoms.  I went to the Emergency Room and sat in a room for three hours.  A nurse took my blood, a technician performed a chest X-Ray, and my vital signs were monitored.  The cost of those services was nearly $5,000 (that's not a typo!), but after the insurance benefit, I was responsible for almost $3,000.  Since I have a high-deductible plan, the only benefit of having insurance in a case like this is that I pay a lower rate that the insurer has negotiated.  I am responsible for 100% of the bill until my medical costs exceed $6,500 in a calendar year.

After receiving the first of three bills,  my initial thought was that an error had been made.  No one pays $5,000 for bloodwork and a single X-ray, do they?  I called the hospital's billing department.  One trick they use to discourage you is make you wait on hold.  It was 40 minutes before I spoke with a live person, and every 20 seconds I was encouraged by a recorded voice to make payment online or through the automated system.  When I finally spoke with someone, I felt like I was talking to a brick wall.  The employee was not helpful at all, insisting that my bill was accurate and that they absolutely do no discounting.  She did offer me a convenient payment plan, but she missed the point that I thought they were ripping me off.

Yes, I said it.  The Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas ripped me off.  But rather than accept this nonsense, I did some research online.  I called in reinforcements in the form of a medical bill negotiator (I used My Medical Negotiator, but there are a couple of options out there).  It took some time, but the person I worked with, Dennis Dobecki, was able to negotiate a 30% discount.  That's not a huge amount, but it saved me $400 on the ER bill.

I also submitted the bill I received from the doctor who "cared" for me.  I saw him for about three minutes, and he never laid a finger on me.  Those three minutes were billed at $1,481.  I haven't paid it yet, but am crossing my fingers that My Medical Negotiator can work some magic on it, too.

Saturday, July 19

Remodeling a House on a Budget

I've spent much of the last three weeks working on this foreclosure that is about to become my home.  I just hate to spend so much money on myself, so I've been working overtime to find frugal ways to make this house into a home.

I wanted to share a few of the ways I have saved money while remodeling my new home:

  • I'm painting the house using Oops Paint.  When the home center mixes a batch of paint for a customer, sometimes the buyer changes their mind about buying the paint.  It's perfectly good paint, and the color is sampled as a splotch on the lid.  I've bought several $44 gallons of paint for $5 each.  I figure I will save about $200 by painting my house with someone else's unwanted color.
  • Every time I visit the home improvement store, I look at the clearance shelves.  Yesterday I bought a $2,800 Samsung French Door Refrigerator for under $1,200.  It was a floor model and there is a noticeable dent on the bottom front.  The same warranty applies and it is being delivered to my home for free.  I've found numerous other items I needed that were on clearance, ranging from blades for my utility knife ($.25 for 5) to dying plants for the backyard (50-70% off original price).
  • On top of the clearance prices, I use 10% off coupons or $10 off a $50 purchase Project Starter coupon.  I buy these in bulk off ebay.
  • Probably the most impactful way I am saving money is by doing most of the work myself.  While not always fun, it's very rewarding when I successfully complete a task.  For this project, the DIY work includes painting, laying vinyl plank flooring, replacing faulty plumbing, replacing out electrical outlets and switches, installing interior doors, and building a wraparound deck.  There's plenty left to learn, and I hope I can tackle new insulation, sheetrock and cabinets myself.
I'm enjoying this project because I know I get to live in it soon.  I keep from burning out by only working 4-5 hours at a time.  Some days that's all I do; others I will return in the late afternoon to do more.  Once we are able to move in, I'l be able to finish the rest of the house more conveniently.  Hopefully in the next week or two I will have enough of the house ready so that we can do just that.